The automobile and truck is industry is one of the largest industries in the world. Companies are always looking for the next best thing to stay ahead in the competition and breakthrough the cluttered market. Current mass manufacturing processes are expensive and relatively inflexible for the technology available to automobile manufacturers. The introduction of 3D printers to this industry could change the entire landscape and their integration should lead to eligible R&D tax credits.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- New or improved products, processes, or software
- Technological in nature
- Elimination of uncertainty
- Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015 President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.
Advantages to 3D Printing in the Automotive Industry
As 3D printing progresses rapidly, its uses are becoming applicable to many industries including the automobile industry. Mass production of vehicles has been done the same way for decades. With 3D printing not only can mass production increase, but customization becomes more feasible. Customers have the potential to design a custom vehicle and have it printed for them at a less expensive cost. Several industry leaders have worked on 3D printed replacement parts that would significantly reduce the cost it would take to maintain a vehicle over its useful life.
Automotive Companies Experimenting with 3D Printing
Currently the world’s largest truck manufacturer has successfully managed to produce spare parts for their Mercedes-Benz Trucks. The company has over 100,000 3D printed prototypes and that number is expected to grow as they bolster their production using 3D printing methods. The truck manufacturer has even used the technology to print spare parts for vehicles models that are years old and that have been suspended from production.
Ford is experimenting with large-scale 3D printing as well. Ford is looking to the technology to be able to print car parts that would allow consumers to purchase customized parts at a heavily reduced cost. Ford would be able to print plastic parts from a 3D printer that would be lighter than standard parts which in turn would lead to higher efficiency in fuel usage. The parts have the potential to be integrated into manufacturing, significantly reducing the average price of a vehicle.
BMW has taken measures to heavily invest in a startup company, Desktop Metal, that specializes in large-scale metal 3D printing. The German automobile manufacturer wants to accelerate their manufacturing processes by using 3D printing with metal as opposed to the plastic counterpart. The technology would melt layers of metallic powder together to print exceptional parts that could allow for more opportunities in the way cars are imaged, designed and manufactured. The 3D printed metal parts also drastically reduce on financial and environmental factors since 3D printed materials are relatively less expensive and the process produces little to no waste.
Audi also is experimenting with 3D printers using metal powders. Audi’s printer is capable of precise and difficult geometrical intricacies that could allow them to print parts that would normally be too expensive to produce on a large scale or simply impossible without the use of the 3D printer. The freedom in design has allowed Audi to implement and test new prototypes to improve the safety and functionality of their vehicles.
Local Motors manufactured the first 3D printed electric car, the Strati. The car only took 40 hours to print and 3 days of assembly. The car is a two-seater that is meant to be driven around neighborhoods with a max mileage of 120 miles. The goal of the vehicle is to be able to construct your own vehicle in a microfactory and interact with the tools to design your own car with the help of the Local Motors team. The model is set to be a part of the mass market soon for a price of $53,000.
Delphi is a high-end developer that has adopted 3D printing as a solution for eco-friendly automobile parts on a global scale. The new 3D printing applications have opened up new manufacturing opportunities that have allowed the company to expand their prototyping and testing of automobile components. Intricate parts such as electrical connectors that are geometrically diverse are now being redesigned to provide better functionality due to the application of 3D printing.
HondaThe Japanese auto-maker has been experimenting with 3D printing and has found applications that could be ideal for mass production. While still in the prototype phases of production Honda has created a tiny one-seater car entirely manufactured from 3D printed panels and will be used for a delivery company in Tokyo, Japan. While still in the beginning phases of production, the potential for mass production is promising for the foreseeable future.
In auto-racing and high performance vehicles, Champion Motorsport has accumulated an impressive resume due to their innovative technologies and skilled automobile engineers. The company has used 3D printing to improve upon performance in some of their race vehicles such as the Porsche 911 and 997 models. They used carbon fiber as a material in their 3D printing manufacturing to produce turbo ducts for the vehicles which reduced weight, allowed for more intake and air flow as well as improve the overall engine performance.
3D technology in the automotive and truck industry is exponentially rising in usage. Already the top vehicle manufacturers have found applications of 3D printing that is reducing their manufacturing expenses especially for spare parts. It will not be long before 3D printing methods will be used for mass vehicle production.
Charles Goulding and Ryan Donley of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printing applications for automobile and truck parts.